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Breaking Bad: Pilot

"It's easy money. 'Til we catch you."

Chemistry, Walter White tells his students, is the study of change, of growth, decay and transformation. Walt's life indeed changes drastically in the course of this pilot.

Walter White could be any one of us. For his entire life, he played by the rules of the so-called American Dream. High school teacher, good husband and father, a home in the suburbs. And then he committed the ultimate sin -- he got sick, and his life turned to shit. What is going to happen to his pregnant wife, his disabled son? It's fascinating that Walt spent a lot of this pilot episode without his clothes. (The very first shot in the series is of Walt's pants flying through the air.) Walt's situation figuratively and literally stripped him down to his core. And what did he have left? Himself. He's brilliant, and has a serious gift for chemistry. A perfect storm of coincidence showed him a fast way to make a ton of money before he dies. Can we blame him? Is taking care of your family at the expense of others wrong?

I'm fairly certain I wouldn't make the choices that Walt does, but it's hard not to sympathize. When Walt finally released his rage and quit the car wash, attacked the man who ridiculed Walter Junior, blew up the dealers that hurt Jesse, I cheered for him. Circumstances unmanned Walt, and in some obvious symbolism, birthday sex with his wife Skyler was unsuccessful. In the final scene, again in bed with Skyler, Walt rose to the occasion. Breaking bad, turning to a life of crime, gave him back his manhood.

Jesse Pinkman, Walt's former student and partner in crime, is an exercise in contrasts. In his introductory scene, he lucked out of being caught in the drug bust, but fell off a roof. He's smart enough to make money cooking, but stupid enough to have a vanity plate announcing who he is. Walt blackmailed Jesse into becoming his partner, but Jesse still kept seeing Walt as his teacher. It's sort of hilarious that by the end of the episode, Jesse is still calling Walt "Mr. White." Jesse has the experience and the contacts, but Walt is undeniably brilliant, and obviously the senior partner.

Except that a life of crime is harder and more unpredictable than Walt expected. Walt took off his clothes before cooking because he wanted to keep out the smell, to keep his two lives separate. Instead, he lost the clothes completely, Jesse's former partners showed up with guns, and everything went nuts. That sequence with the frantic drive in the RV with Walt half naked and wearing a gas mask is laugh out loud funny as well as disturbing. Walt recorded a suicide note and was ready to shoot himself, and the fire department arrived to put out the fire, completely ignoring the half naked man and the meth lab. Walt lucked out in the end. It was almost like a sign from God.

There is a lot of symbolism in this series. I'm not going to go nuts with interpretation, but I'll list what I notice. I'm sure I'll miss a lot. Feel free to post comments!

-- The show is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The blindingly bright, sunny backdrop is an effective contrast to the darkness of the story.

-- Veggie bacon is a perfect symbol of the unreality of the situation, and the boring state of Walt's marriage.

-- When the doctor told Walt that he was dying, Walt stared at a spot of mustard on the doctor's white coat.

-- Walt sat by his dead, unusable swimming pool, lit matches and tossed them in.

-- Walt's last name is "white," which represents purity. I think it's hilarious that Jesse's last name is "pinkman".

Other bits:

-- Walt's marriage appears to be a good one, although the excitement has gone out of it. It's interesting that when Walt found out he was dying, he didn't tell his wife.

-- There is nothing wrong with washing cars. We all have to make a living. But it is humiliating for Walt to essentially grovel on the ground in front of his students. Teaching is an important job, and a teacher shouldn't have to work two jobs to make ends meet.

-- Loved the car wash boss with the levitating eyebrows.

-- Walter has just turned 50. His wife Skyler is not yet 40. His son Walter Junior is 16.

-- Skyler has a sister Marie who is married to Hank, a DEA agent. Hank is very full of himself, but I rather liked him. Marie, maybe not so much.

-- The bystanders and supporting characters all appear to be less than human. Walt's students were defiant and disrespectful. The kids in the clothing store ridiculed Junior.

-- Walt knocked out Jesse's ex-partners with phosphine gas. There was something rather cool geek superhero about that. Are they dead? What will Walt do with them?


Junior: (re: veggie bacon) "This smells like band-aids."

Walt: "Fuck you and your eyebrows! Wipe down this!" (grabs his crotch)

Walt: "Did you learn nothing from my chemistry class?"
Jesse: "No. You flunked me."

I wasn't sure what I thought about this pilot the first time I saw it, but in retrospect, it's outstanding. Four out of four slices of veggie bacon,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Breaking Bad is the best drama on tv right now. It's great to see it reviewed here because as You might already know no show is complete without a billiedoux.com review.

    The pilot is very effective and also has that in media res structure that some of the best Breaking Bad episodes have where the subversion of expectations of what is happening feels natural and not forced like in many shows that open in the middle of the action and then flashback to how we got there.

    The Walking Dead seems to use the same type of cold open as Breaking Bad. It's either a short flashback to fill in the backstory or give a new perspective on the plot or what I described in the paragraph above. Both are AMC shows which is of course no coincidence.

  2. Thanks, Patryk. I've wanted to review Breaking Bad for a long time, but I just had too many shows going on and couldn't take on another. You're absolutely right that BB does that in media res structure exceptionally well. How can it get any better than a pair of pants floating in the air?

  3. Billie,

    I am so excited to see that you are reviewing this show now. I just saw that Netflix streaming is now carrying it a few weeks back and decided to give the pilot a try. I really liked it, even though I found it to be a little disturbing. Since that time, several people have mentioned to me how great the show is, and I even had one of my college students write about it in a paper. All of this has made me want to give it a try, so seeing that you are reviewing it has sealed the deal for me. I look forward to reading more of your commentary of it here on your wonderful blog.

  4. You really won't be disappointed with Breaking Bad. Best show on television, imo, and probably one of the best I have ever seen.

  5. I picked this series up at the start of this current 2011 summer season with only a basic knowledge of the story and characters and had no trouble following it. It was fantastic in every aspect. Im sure I missed some great earlier seasons but Im going to just keep going forward.

  6. Yay, Breaking Bad.

    I'll make better comments as soon as I rewatch the episode.

    Al I'l say is that AMC is turining into muy favorite channel (sorry, HBO. You cancelled Deadwood and True Blood isn't doing it for me anymore.

    BethTVzone, I really recommend that you watch all the episodes. Season 3, in particular, is one of the best seasons ever aired.

    Billie, I echo what Patryk said and feel that season 5 will be much more enjoyable since you'll be reviewing it as it airs (I suppose).

  7. As a high school teacher, I can tell you for a fact that today's students are disrespectful and feel like they are entitled. This is not a long shot.

  8. I just started watching this at the insistence of my kids who love it. I enjoyed the pilot but thought it was a bit strange but I am assured that strange is good. I've watched a few episodes now and both Walter and Jessie are growing on me. Your reviews always give a show an added dimension so I am so glad that you are reviewing from the beginning!

  9. Great thoughts on the pilot, Billie. This is my absolute favorite show right now. "Growth, decay, and transformation" are the keys to the entire series, and I love that it is right there from the very beginning. I haven't seen the pilot since last winter, but it is interesting to look back on it now when my point of view on nearly all the characters has shifted so dramatically.

    I remember being immediately drawn in and captivated by the visceral thrill and the raw "realness" of the characters. And that feeling has held all the way through. No show draws me in and keeps me on the edge of my seat (or pushed back into the corner of my couch, hugging my knees to my chest) the way this show does. The situations are often extreme, but the characters and the decisions they make in those situations always feel perfectly organic and true to their characterizations, even when we don't agree with them. It is an engrossing and completely fascinating ride, and I look forward to revisiting the series! Especially with all the newbies on board. I might even rewatch again if the show is available on Netflix streaming now!

    Time to break bad!

  10. Recently started watching this on Netflix and I have to say one of the smaller things I really like is the periodic table themed credits. Maybe it's the science geek in me....

  11. Great review and thank you for reviewing Breaking Bad, after reading many reviews on this blog I was wondering what you'd think about this show. Now that Lost is over, it probably ranks up as my favorite.

  12. So, I got a chance to rewatch the pilot on Netflix, and thought it was really interesting that they streamed the version that aired on TV rather than the DVD cut, which apparently includes the scene with Skyler's --- ahem --- birthday present for Walt. Out of curiousity, does the DVD version also include the swear words, or is the audio dropped out like it is in the tv/streaming version?

    Aside from those observations, the thing that really stuck out for me in the pilot was Walt's confession to the video camera during the cold open. Hearing those words again --- the words Walt thought were possibly his final ones for his family --- after having seen the full run of the series was incredibly fascinating and quite striking.

    I was also intrigued to see that the "color palette" for the show was largely in place from the pilot. Not just in the names (White, Pinkman, Negro Arroyo Drive), but visually. The main characters have their signature colors, all of which were in use here, except perhaps Skyler's. She was in a lot of blues, and I always think of her color as green. Green was associated more strongly with Walt in the pilot. I wonder if there is a deliberate switch at some point, and when it occurs. Interesting stuff.

  13. The DVD version definitely includes the profanity, Jess. It ended with a sex scene, too.

  14. The streamed version definitely ends with the sex scene, and I remembered it from when I watched it on AMC last year. It seems like the moment would have even more power if you can see it in contrast to the moment you describe earlier in the episode. I guess if they were short on time, I can see why they'd cut it for the TV version (especially if there were Standards and Practices concerns), but I've got no earthly idea why they can't stream the extended version without all the audio dropped from the curse words. It is very strange.

    At any rate, I expect anyone catching up with the series through Netflix streaming is going to be a bit perplexed when they first read through your review. :)

  15. Hi Billie! Since Neftlix didn´t had Buffy (or any good show, at least on this part of the planet)and my LFN obsession has finally stopped again, I decided to give this a try

    This show is so unbelievable good, I can´t believe I didn´t saw it earlier.

    At first I was a little confused with Walt running everywhere half-naked, my grandma calls this show "the one with the junkie with underpants" or something like that, she obviously didn´t saw the show.

    I´m so glad that I´m not the only one who laughed out loud with the scene with Walt running desesperate, I thought I was a very disturbed person at the moment.

    Very morally ambiguous, and as you know I´m a sucker for those things.


  16. Welcome to Breaking Bad, Becky! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

  17. Regarding the scene of Walt throwing matches to the pool. The matches is a miniaturized version of the performance on class, with the red and blue fires. The matches are examples "change" and "transformation" that Walt talks about in the classroom. This is where he decides to pursue a big change in a dual way: Change the near future ahead (leaving enough money for his familiy after his own death),a very operational and practical need; and change the way his life is at that moment (the good, silent husband)... the actual "breaking bad" transformation, a more emotional need.

  18. Everyone has told me to give this show a second try. I tried to get into it a few years ago, but something about the pilot really turned me off.

    Watching it again, I didn't have that feeling, and I trust everyone's opinion, so I'll stick around for a season and see if it grows on me.

  19. Yeah, yeah. I finally succumbed. Just two weeks before the show is over for good. My timing rocks.

    I liked that Walt was smart. I find myself rooting for smartness over stupidity (obvious choice) and I kind of loved him geeking out over chemistry equipment.

    One thing I do not get about this show (well it's only marginally to do with the show, actually) is what makes people want to do meth. From everything I've heard it sounds violently unpleasant. I can understand addiction but why on earth would anyone start the stuff?

  20. PS. Aaron Paul is so adorable it sort of hurts to look at him.

  21. Sunbunny, nooooooo!

    I was just thinking that if someone asked me if they should start this show, I would say no. Absolutely not. No.

  22. Yeah. That's EXACTLY why I started. People on Tumblr were freaking out over tonight's episode and saying "Don't ever start watching this show" and well...yeah. Clearly, I have some issues with authority lol

  23. In that case:

    Watch it now! Watch watch watch! Why are you watching more?!

  24. Welcome to Breaking Bad, sunbunny!

    Not posting spoilers in any way shape or form, but I honestly don't understand the Tumblr reaction. Last night's episode (5x14) was intensely heavy, but also one of the best episodes in the series. Please, new viewers, don't get put off! This show is exceptionally good, and it stays that way, I promise!

  25. If I hear one more time, "You write for a review site and you've never seen Breaking Bad?" I will do something drastic. So, as I am spending a quiet day, I decided to check out what all the fuss is about.

    I'm not sure. Parts of this I found fascinating, but parts I found very, very disturbing. My reaction to this pilot reminded me of my reaction to the Dexter pilot -- do I really want to root for a character who commits murder/cooks meth? We shall see...

  26. Been a while since anyone posted to Breaking Bad from the looks of it, but I just started a re-watch a couple of weeks ago (at s2e4 currently) and wanted to note down my thoughts as I go - similar to a BSG rewatch I did like 5 years ago...

    As a Brit now living in NM I'm surprised I've never got past the first season of this show. I watched the whole 1st season back in 2012 (just before moving to the states) and did not get the references. Now I've been in NM so long it's very fun to see the local references... Menaul? Hey I've driven down that road! Skylar working in Los Alamos previously? Bet it was at Blue Window...

    Either way - this episode gave a decent introduction to all our characters and the premise, but it didn't really hook me in yet - that hook comes later in this first season, which I guess I'll talk about more when my comments catch up to my position.

  27. Baz, fire away! I'm looking forward to reading your comments.

  28. Jesse's bewildered "*scoff*... What?!" to Walt's "I am awake" suddenly took me back to the early '10s. Man... so did seeing the opening credits again. I was late but not as late as most of the fans who discovered this show near the end of its season. I discovered it somewhere in season 3 and was proud to be the one to introduce my friend to it who usually is the one to sniff out the underrated (at the time) bests of TV. It's been so long since I watched it on TV that I'm no longer annoyed by the fact that AMC would play that opening theme song at the beginning/end of commercial breaks, although I generally do approve of that habit of not just jumping right back into the show. But it had its intended effect on me now hearing it right after the cold open for the first time in a very long while. Haunting, knowing what's to come.

    I'm not sure I'll rewatch the whole thing, at least not in one go. Just the first season for now, which'll be hard because though it's my favourite show I'm kind of meh about the early stuff. I mean I loved it the first time from the get go, I thought it was so cool to see the premiere ending like this with Out of Time Man, Walt finding his balls again. But some of it's vaguely embarrassing now. Hank so obliviously emasculating Walt, the sneering highschoolers at the carwash, Skyler's "Walt, is that you?" when he's performing his husbandly duties again. And of course Walt bruising the leg of one of those fuckboys making fun of BigBreakfast. I mean I loved it the first time so there's still affection, but yeah lol. It already feels like a fantasy sequence.

    But yeah worth it for that Walt-Jesse scene I mentioned at the beginning lol, there's just something so funny to me about Jesse's demeanor. [paraphrase] "If you're like.. depressed or something. I mean, that's something I need to know! Like... like that affects me!"

    I find Marie almost cute this time, which is a difference from my first viewing. I remember I immediately found her annoying.


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